Wednesday, February 28, 2007



I am beginning to suspect that when my brother's sins become burdensome to me, his humor tiring and his idiosyncrasies overwhelming, the Christian question is not, "how can I help him not to annoy the hell out of me," but rather, "how can I love well this person who annoys the hell out of me?"

That's all.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Polycarp: "To Save Your Whole Body"

+Polycarp of Smyrna

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is thought to date around the time of Ignatius' martyrdom, about AD 110. The text itself isn't earth-shattering, and begins in a Pauline fashion: "Polycarp and the presbyters with him to the church of God that sojourns at Philippi: may mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be yours in abundance." The rest of the letter is essentially an exhortation in which Polycarp reminds the Philippian church of the ethical content of much of the New Testament, with ample quotations.

It may have been the case that he wrote them on the occasion of their distress over a local finanicial scandal involving one of their priests. (He also mentions their request for copies of Ignatius' letters.) I think his statement on the scandal is noteworthy:
"I have been deeply grieved for Valens, who once was a presbyter among you, because he so fails to understand the office that was entrusted to him. ... I am deeply grieved for him and for his wife; may the Lord grant them true repentance. You, therefore, for your part must be reasonable in this matter, and do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another."
I am always struck by the simple, organic ecclesiology present in some of these writings. Polycarp does not give the church permission to throw up their hands and walk away, but makes very clear that the errant member is still very much a part of them. We can't help but in some way to bear the sins and errors(as well as the joys!) of those with whom we are joined in the Christian community.

Lord, help us. Teach us to build up one another, and never to write off or dismiss one another, but rather work to "save our body in its entirety."

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See also Aquilina on Polycarp

Post-Protestant: What I'm Talking About

Polycarp of Smyrna

For those of us who have grown up in the evangelical world it kinda feels like there was a big family argument before we were born and we grew up being told that our great uncle was a really bad man and we shouldn't have anything to do with him. Then as we got older we found out for ourselves that actually he wasn't a bad man at all, in fact he had a lot of wisdom.
from Matt, discussing Liturgy

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Southern Breakfasts


Today was my first solo run on biscuits and gravy. I have learned some things.

I used whole wheat to make the biscuits. Yes, it was an honorable thing to do, but at the same time, using whole grain for southern biscuits and gravy is like eating granola or oatmeal but adding a half cup of maple syrup. It's not so much avoiding heart disease as merely confusing it.

Next time, white flour, more salt, 3 minutes less in the oven, and a bit more milk. That should do it.

It reminds me of my college roommate from first semester who was monstrously lazy, and would complain endlessly about the fact that the ice cream case was on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the root beer.

To save the walking, he would use Diet Coke for what would have otherwise been root beer floats. When I made fun of him, he would insist, "every little bit helps."

Yes indeedy.

I'm going to make some whole wheat sugar cookies. With a whole cup of Crisco. "Look, kids! Eating healthy is fun."

Check out this colossal squid.

Baptists and Communion


Thoughts on Weekly Communion from the Internet Monk.

I had no idea that he would say what he says...

"To come to the Lord’s table is to return to that night when Jesus gave the supper to his disciples. It is to be reinvited to believe, to be reinvited into the community of Jesus’ followers. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are literal moments from the ministry of Jesus, re-lived and re-joined with all the power of that moment."
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Keeping a Holy Lent

Ash Wednesday

I realize that not all of my wonderful readers are familiar with the purpose and practice of the Lenten season. Stay with me as I indulge myself (and perhaps you) in a little bit of history and theology.

Where it Came From

In the earliest Christian centuries, once the Christian mission moved past Palestine and the "god-fearing" Gentiles (those familiar with and disposed toward the story of Israel's god, like Cornelius in Acts 10) and into the wider Roman world, it became necessary to catechize potential converts - to be intentional about teaching them the story of Israel's god, his people, his world, and his Christ, from beginning to end. Catechesis was a time of ethical reformation, as members of the church discipled these soon-to-be Christians in the way of God's New Community.

Much of the theological instruction for this one to three year period was put into the period of 40 days before the Great Vigil of Easter. The forty days brings echoes of Moses conversing with God on Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments, the forty years of temptation in the wilderness that refined Israel, and the forty days when Jesus entered the wilderness for his communion with God and to prepare for his own testing. Forty days is a time of refining and of being with the Lord.

At the season of Lent, Christian converts receive intensive theological education, accompanied by prayers, confession and exorcisms - it is indeed an intense time of being with the Lord. The rest of the Church also walks through this time of penitence and learning and self-examination.

Walking with Jesus

It also has a place in the overall narrative of Jesus' life: At Epiphany, we commemorated his appearance to his people, and realized that he is the light that scatters our darkness. At his baptism, he was revealed to be the Son of God, bearing divine favor for the people. At the reception of John's baptism, he identified himself with the faithful remnant of Israel, and began to reconstitute the nation in terms of loyalty to himself by his calling of the Twelve; now enter the story of the last days of his ministry, when he begin to orient himself and his disciples to his vocation of suffering and death for the sake of the people. The story has taken a dark turn, and we join the Master as he sets his face resolutely toward Jerusalem. In solidarity with him, we begin the time of sorrowing for our sins and his suffering, walking into the darkness of our broken humanity in the hope of Easter's light.

So the matter of Lenten disciplines or practices is this: what can I do to set my own face toward Jerusalem? What in my personality and my life with the Church in the world needs to be put to death, and what does God wish to be raised up? I think we find the answers to these questions by putting ourselves in an intentional posture of listening: making a quiet space in our routines to hear from the Lord.

This is not meant for Herculean efforts of spiritual zeal - like boot camp for Jesus - but for a time of greater intentionality. We learn to be quiet and make space, preparing for the conviction of sin, and to offer our brokenness for his healing, so that when we do speak and act, we will do so as a grateful and repentant response to the Trinitarian God who leads us into truth.

We rededicate ourselves in practical ways to prayer, to seeking and listening to the counsel of our brothers and sisters, and in learning more deeply the Way of Life. In this practice-able, regular actions - these ways of making space - we invite the Lord to purge our personalities of the dross of the old nature, and to refine us more and more as part of the new creation. Repentance, it must be remembered, is a change of attitude, a new way of seeing that sends us walking in a different direction. Sometimes the turning is slight, and sometimes it's one hundred and eighty degrees. Our goal is not a particular spiritual experience or to start or stop a particular habit necessarily, but to be with the Lord and offer to him our readiness to turn in unexpected directions, to listen to words we would not have anticipated, and answer yes to him in ways we would not have imagined.

The time of Great Lent is upon us. May it be a holy one as we walk into the dark places of ourselves and discover that the Lord Himself leads us into the stillness of our solitary fears, to sit with us, to heal us, and to absorb all of our darkness into the Darkness of his Cross and the Light of Easter Dawn.

My other writings on Lent and the Christian Year can be found here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Baptists Behaving Badly

Recorded at a cookout right after I returned from Oxford. I was horribly, horribly jet lagged. I also apparently got a little fatter, but that's okay.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Patriotism and Your Church

Ordinary Time

Of course it's no news for a church in this country to encourage patriotism in its people as some kind of Christian virtue. I wonder - how many of you have ever been part of a church that did not actively encourage patriotism or actively discouraged folks from considering particular values (freedom, stuff like that) as American virtues that the Kingdom of God somehow shares?

To rephrase, many churches have maintained the Puritan sense of the United States being a "city on a hill," having a particular theological vocation in the world as a nation. Others have not, and their ministers might go out of their way to say that America is a nation like any other - some are good and some are bad, but they are still just nations.

I want anecdotes!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How to Know You are "Post-Protestant"

Ordinary Time
"I just realized that I have more reasons for not being a Baptist than I have for not being a Catholic."

- Anonymous (until I have permission to quote him)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Seeker Sensitive?

Ordinary Time

Marcus has posted a thoughtful response to my challenge against "seeker sensitive" church models. I like his bottom line.

Integrity and Criticism

Ordinary Time

Many of you have recently become aware of my long standing feud with Paula Deen. I appreciate your concern, but I'm still not going to discuss it on-blog, or in any way respond to public attacks.

You see this is a Certain Kind of blog I have here. I write it because it's fun to share my life in a small way like this with friends and strangers. I write here because it's a way of practicing theology on the ground. I write things about God and the Church and the Church's life with God in a way that I hope will be understandable, and invite people to sort out issues with me that I think matter to that life. Sometimes I do write things that are critical of fads and popular trends, but this is not a "watch blog." You will not find me writing posts on how awful it was that some other blogger wrote something on his or her blog. I've only recently discovered that some theology bloggers out there make a habit of writing about other folks' blogs, and they go back and forth saying rude things about one another and just look like complete asses. That would make my blog a different king of blog, and I don't do that.

I thought about this for awhile after Michael Spencer said something to the effect that if a public leader were to make a public response to criticism made by some guy on a blog, that leader would actually degrade himself in the public eye.

What's the lesson, friends? It's okay if someone doesn't like your buttermilk biscuits. There's nothing wrong with that. It is what it is, and it means what it means. If you think you need to tweak your recipe in response to someone's criticism, do it; however, you're not under any kind of cosmic obligation to do so. When the people you cook for and share the dinner table with say that your recipe is bad, that's a problem. Otherwise, when you know you've got a good recipe, you've got a good recipe, and life's too short to do anything but leave it at that.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why We Keep the Christian Year

Ordinary Time

Or, Why Lent has Nothing to Do with Chocolate

I've been thinking about Lent (which will be upon us in two weeks) and how Friday is a really inconvenient fast day. I'm just being honest, here. Y'all were thinking it, too. See, even though I'm a student, I actually get up pretty early in the morning, and go to bed at a reasonable time in the evening. Friday and Saturday are party nights. Hasn't anyone explained this to the Church Catholic?

Oh yeah, wait.

The Christian Church has a particular story that it tells about the world. It begins with the creation of the world by the Triune God who loves it deeply and passionately. However, it suffers under the weight of the great Fall, a story told in terms of disobedience and expulsion from God's garden. This God created and nurtured a particular people out of all the tribes on earth to be the ones who would bear his name, and invite everybody who was far off to come and worship and know that God. That people, Israel, suffered their own narrative of creation, judgment, exile, and hoped-for return.

In the work, death, and vindication of Jesus the God-Man, God brought the judgment of Israel and the destitution of the wider world together upon his own shoulders. All of the world's evil was absorbed into the life of God.

Now that this has been done, God is building together a community of redeemed and saved people that participate in his renewal - his re-creation - of everything. Everyone has been called to get on board with this agenda, to turn from evil, and align themselves with this agenda, this Reign of God.

This is the story that the Church tells about the world, and this is the framework by which Christians learn to understand their own lives. The story of Jesus is at the center of this wider epic, and we believe that in following it closely, and telling that story over and over again, it will shape our imaginations and the way we live our lives.

Keeping the Church year and remembering the seasons is one way that we order our lives according to that story. This isn't merely "February" - it's Ordinary Time, after the Epiphany. We remember that after the revelation of Christ's love and renewal, only now is time really ordinary: we have been brought into fellowship with God, and things are becoming as they are supposed to be.

Now we follow the life of Christ into the season of Lent, that cadence of mourning and hope, of repentance and works of penance, and sorrow that leads to life rather than death. As he in the midst of announcing God's Reign turned toward Jerusalem, and the suffering and death he would face there for all of us, so we also change our tempo to remember that we too will face death, and must seek to divest ourselves of the sin we treasure.

It's not about feeling badly and it's not about giving up chocolate. It's about being mindful, and choosing for this time to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.

So yeah, I think I'll be keeping some kind of Friday fast during the season, so that I can remember with Christ's Church that these rhythms of sin and repentance and death and new life are the primary ways of telling time, rather than those of "work weeks" and "weekends."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Just Things

Ordinary Time

Every morning I make coffee using a french press. I usually grind it on the spot. I like it strong, and I'm very particular about this. Today's coffee is Kenyan AA.

Last night we had the Best Super Bowl Party Ever, and I think the only person who paid a bit of attention to the game was Liz. The rest of us ate, drank and played Taboo. Have you played this game? I love it.

Every week day morning, I have to decide whether to make up a reason to go out into the cold, since I don't have a formal "job" that requires I do so. I am invariably more productive if I get out of here at 7:15 and hotfoot it to LTS, but I could read at home.

I'm still working through Mary Margaret Funk's book on John Cassian. Thomas Merton still confuses me.

When I had a clergy internship, Monday was my day off. I still prefer to do laundry on Mondays. And not to have clergy internships.

You may not realize this, but I am even more attractive in person than the photos on my blog suggest.

I'm considering a media fast for the first week of Lent. A certain abbot thinks this is wimpy of me, but hey - that's a long time. I mean, does any of us want me not to blog for the entirety of Lent?

On second thought, consider that a rhetorical question.

Is anybody else thinking of some helpful Lenten disciplines?

Friday, February 02, 2007

My Day

Ordinary Time

Yesterday was a very busy and fun day. I went to Georgetown to meet with Doc and discuss my dissertation research. He pointed out that, alas, foundationalism is not so dead as I might like to believe; its kind of a plain fact that while pomo, post-foundationalist churches are flourishing, as well as neo-monastic, catholic churches (like our own), fundamentalism is in. Actually, pretty much the only churches that are falling off are the mainline denominations (hee hee). Doc was also kind enough to give me deadlines: chapter 1 is due on Ash Wednesday.

I'm thinking all kind of brilliant dissertation thoughts, but those are secret. Shhh.

Glen and I had lunch at Fava's. I'm sure all my GC readers have been there, but for the rest of you, it's a downtown restaurant that's been there since 1910. It's got that local Mom and Pop ambiance. I had a burger. With bacon. It was nice. I spent much of the afternoon gossiping about Baptists with Glen and Zac. At Georgetown, there's plenty of Baptist news to go around. Mostly we talked about some of the neo-monastic communities growing up around the world. I'd heard of the Baptists of Northumbria (yeah, I know they're considered interdenominational) but Glen told me about a group of Baptists doing the monastic thing in suburban Australia. Anybody have names or details?

I wandered to the Campus Ministries lounge to meet up with Patrick, but was duped into a Bible study. That Patrick, always looking after my soul! But seriously, lots of fun. Somehow we got turned 'round to that ever-relevant question, "Can a Campbellite be Saved?" We'll do a podcast on that one soon.

I visited Jeremy, my former housemate. If I've told you stories about Jeremy, you know that every time I see him, I feel like it's my birthday. *blushes*

Icon by Alan Creech

Morgan Atkinson hosted the Lexington premiere of his new Merton documentary, "Soul Searching," at the Cathedral of Christ the King last night. I attended with Alan, obviously. The program was really well done, and you should watch it when it comes to KET/PBS on Easter evening if you have any interest in Merton. I'm sure the guys will be pleased to know that this has pushed me over: I'm ready to read Merton.

Okay, so let me explain to you an aspect of blog nerdiness. Every couple of weeks, a stranger will stop me and say, "you don't know me, but I read your blog." I think that's really cool. The first half-dozen times was kind of disconcerting, but after that, it was a pretty neat thing. It means precisely nothing to be "e-famous," but it is fun to meet and chat with some of the people who bother to read what I write here.

I wonder how weird it must be to hear, "Hi, you don't know me, but I listen to your dad's podcasts." (Probably pretty weird.) I briefly met Clay Spencer after the program, and told him just that. I thought it would be funny. Anyway, you should listen to (and read!) the Internet Monk, if you don't already.

Okay. Now I'm going to take out the garbage, clean the kitchen, and get back to reading Stan Grenz. Good times.

I'm such a nerd. But more on that to come...